Telling Children about Cancer in the Family

I know what a great deal of courage it takes to talk to children about cancer in the family.

When I was diagnosed, our daughters were 8, 10 and 12, and we wanted to protect them from cancer’s assault on me. So, we decided we would tell them I was going to have surgery, but we wouldn’t use the word cancer.

That bright idea lasted about 24 hours until I realized that somebody in our church or our community was going to use the word cancer and my girls would hear it.

So we sat them down again and using the dreaded word tried to give them an idea of what to expect. I remember being careful not to give them too much information that would scare them but also not making promises we couldn’t keep.

We were cautious not to talk about any specific cure odds, but about five years later my eldest daughter, Danielle, confessed she had overhead someone talking at church and knew that the odds I would die were greater than the odds I would live.

I wish I had known Danielle knew that because I would have talked more with her about my uncertain future and encouraged her more to ask questions and express worries. But she is my introvert and didn’t mention the overhead conversation until she was seventeen.


If you still have children at home—or even grandchildren nearby—you have a great opportunity to show them your faith in action. It’s easy to talk about things like praying, having faith and trusting God, but a diagnosis of cancer in the family gives us a chance to see if our walk matches our talk.

In those first really dark days after my diagnosis, I remember feeling as if I wanted to go to bed, pull the covers up over my head, and have somebody call me to come out when it was all over. But I also remember my head talking some courage into my faint heart.

You’ve always told your children:

That God can be trusted.

Now they can see if you really do trust Him.

That God is faithful.

Now they can see if you will be too.

That knowing Jesus makes all the difference.

Now they can see if it really does.

We were a family, and that “for better or for worse” pledge my husband and I made applied to our children too. Together we would face cancer with the courage that God supernaturally would pour into each of our hearts, no matter what our age or bravery status.

Cancer probably was the best real-life lesson to prove to my kids that God can and will meet our deepest needs—that He can give us courage to face things we never thought we could.

My daughters, now in their thirties, also have seen that because God poured courage into our hearts, we now can pour it into others.

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. . . . For when God comforts us, it is so we, in turn, can be an encouragement to you. 

2 Corinthians 1:4, 6 NLT


One of the ways I’ve noticed that God pours courage into people’s hearts is “putting the right people in your life at the right time.”

The apostle Paul talks about this method of God’s encouragement in a letter he wrote to the believers in Corinth, Greece.

When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside. But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. His presence was a joy. . . .

2 Corinthians 7:5-7 NLT

Many times I have seen God, who encourages the discouraged, “show up” in just the right person and at just the right time to encourage me. I hope you pray believing He will do the same for you and those you love.


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